Monday, March 31, 2014

Joey's Unhappy Recap: A National Disaster On Opening Day

Hi, everyone.  This is Joey Beartran.  In addition to my roving reporter and culinary expert duties for Studious Metsimus, I occasionally write a happy game recap.  More often than not, that recap comes on Opening Day, but today's season opener was anything by happy for the Mets and their fans.

Everything started out happy for me and my Studious Metsimus colleagues.  We attended a tailgate outside the ballpark where we had a tasty burger.  And that, my friends, was the extent of our happiness.

Happy days are here again.  Then the game started.

Oh, sure, the Mets took an early 3-0 lead on a home run into our section by Andrew Brown (I didn't have my glove with me so I let some kid catch it).  And yes, after a poor second inning in which he allowed a long two-run homer to Adam LaRoche, Dillon Gee settled down to retire 15 consecutive batters.  But you have to consider this.  Dillon Gee wasn't going to pitch a complete game.  And Andrew Brown was the Mets' offensive star.

You had a feeling this wasn't going to end well.

Once Gee was removed from the game in the seventh inning, the bullpen pitched as if every Nationals hitter was named Eddie Gaedel.  Entering the game with the Mets still leading, 4-3, Carlos Torres threw four straight balls to pinch-hitter Nate McLouth.  Then Scott Rice came into the game and thought he was playing Horse.  That's the only explanation I can see for Rice throwing four consecutive balls to Denard Span - he didn't want to get saddled with an "H".

The back-to-back free passes allowed the Nats to tie the game.  And somewhere in the dugout, Dillon Gee sulked.

Dillon Gee walks dejectedly off the mound in the seventh.  Many other Met pitchers would follow suit.

The Mets eventually got out of the inning when Jose Valverde (reliever No. 3 in the inning) struck out Mr. National himself, Ryan Zimmerman.  After retiring the side in order in the eighth, Valverde was in line to pick up the win after Juan Lagares gave the Mets a 5-4 lead with a home run in the bottom of the eighth.

But these are the Mets.  And even though they're the most successful Opening Day team in big league history, they still found a way to send the sellout crowd home disappointed.

Down to their last out, the Nationals tied the game in the ninth off Mets closer Bobby Parnell.  Then Washington scored four runs in the tenth off Jeurys Familia and ex-Nationals pitcher John Lannan.  The big blow came off Lannan, as the southpaw allowed a three-run homer to Anthony Rendon.  In six years with Washington, Lannan won 42 games.  Looks like he won another one for them today.

By the time David Wright hit a meaningless two-run homer in the Mets' half of the tenth (the third time in six seasons Wright has homered in the Mets' home opener), the number of empty seats outnumbered the number of filled ones.

All you need to know about this game is that Dillon Gee allowed four hits and two walks in six and two-thirds innings.  Then six relievers combined to give up five hits and four walks in just three and a third innings.  And oh yeah, Curtis Granderson went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and the first base combo of Ike Davis and Lucas Duda both went 0-for-2.  The Mets as a team struck out 18 times, led by Eric Young, Jr., who fanned four times.  I mean, if he wanted to wear a golden sombrero so badly, he could have just borrowed Ballapeño's rally sombrero and painted it gold.

So that's it, Mets fans.  Although this past weekend's rainy weather left before the first pitch was thrown, the game itself was still a washout.  It's never a good thing to write an unhappy recap.  It's even worse when it comes on Opening Day.  Let's hope I don't have to write too many of these in 2014.

Washington's Bryce Harper goes down in the second inning.  The Mets would do the same eight innings later.

The Best On The Worst: R.A. Dickey

Some men dare to dream.  And when they do, it's amazing what they can accomplish.  For example, Jim Abbott was born without a right hand, but despite the obvious hardships he faced as a pitcher, he still managed to remain in the big leagues for ten seasons and pitched one of the most unlikely no-hitters in history.  Similarly, William "Dummy" Hoy played 14 seasons professionally, collecting over 2,000 hits and stealing nearly 600 bases.  Hoy was able to have a successful career despite being legally deaf.

Both Abbott and Hoy overcame physical obstacles to become two of baseball's most inspiring success stories.  But not every player has had to persevere through those types of challenges in order to achieve success in the big leagues.  Some players have to conquer mental obstacles, while others have to deal with repeated bouts of rejection.  Many players can't handle those pressures.  But some do.  And in conquering those demons, those players not only make their own baseball dreams come true, but help others achieve their dreams as well through their stories.

One such player was told he couldn't succeed so many times, he had to reinvent himself as a baseball player, suffering through constant failure and disappointment before his patience finally paid off.  And in doing so, he became one of the most beloved and respected players in the history of the New York Mets.

That grip means you're about to get knuckled by a beloved former Met.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Robert Allen Dickey, for all intents and purposes, had a great year in 1996.  He was drafted in the first round by the Texas Rangers and was a member of the United States Olympic baseball team that won the bronze medal.  The future looked quite bright for the Tennessee native, and quick stardom (not to mention a growing bank account) was all but assured for the All-American pitcher.

Texas had offered Dickey an $810,000 signing bonus, which the right-hander was happy to accept.  But the arm attached to that right hand became a bit of a concern for the Rangers after the team trainer noticed it was dangling at an odd angle in a photograph published on the cover of Baseball America.  Before long, Dickey's offer of $810,000 had shrunk to $75,000.  What was the reason for the steep drop in signing bonus money?  A physical revealed that Dickey's right elbow did not have an ulnar collateral ligament.  In plain English, Dickey's elbow should have gone kaplooey every time he threw a baseball.

Eventually, Dickey did sign with the Rangers for the reduced amount, then spent half a decade toiling in their minor league system waiting for his first call-up to the major leagues.  That call finally came in 2001, with Dickey making the long-awaited jump to the Rangers in late April.  Dickey pitched well in relief in two of his first three appearances, but took the loss on May 7 when he allowed six runs against the Chicago White Sox.  The defeat came four days after manager Johnny Oates had resigned from his position.  His replacement, Jerry Narron, wasn't as supportive of Dickey as Oates was.  Dickey was sent back to the minors immediately after the loss.  He would never pitch for Narron again.

Jerry Narron continued to manage in Texas through the 2002 season while Dickey watched from Oklahoma as a member of the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate.  Although Dickey pitched well for the RedHawks, going 19-14 with a 3.92 ERA, he was never promoted back to the Rangers during Narron's tenure as the team's skipper.  But once Narron was fired and replaced by Buck Showalter prior to the 2003 campaign, Dickey was afforded a second chance.  Showalter was the Rangers manager for four seasons, and Dickey spent time with the team in each of those seasons.  However, he never quite became the star the Rangers expected when they selected him with the 18th overall pick in the 1996 draft, going 16-17 with a 5.49 ERA from 2003 to 2005.  Dickey made one and only one appearance for the Rangers in 2006, and it was one for the history books - for all the wrong reasons.

On April 6, 2006, Dickey was removed from his first start of the season after coughing up six home runs to the Detroit Tigers, tying a major league record.  The rough outing came a year after Dickey had converted from a conventional pitcher to a knuckleball pitcher at the behest of Showalter and pitching coach Orel Hershiser.  Ten years after seeing his bonus money drop from $810,000 to $75,000, Dickey was seeing his odds of remaining in the big leagues drop as well.  The knuckleballer was demoted once again to Oklahoma and never pitched again for the Rangers.

From 2007 to 2009, Dickey would pitch in the Brewers, Mariners and Twins organizations, but continued to rack up more frequent flyer miles than innings pitched at the major league level.  Dickey spent time in the minors in all three seasons before the Twins decided that they would not re-sign him at the conclusion of the 2009 campaign.  At the age of 35, Dickey had won a grand total of 22 games at the major league level and had posted a lifetime 5.43 ERA.  But he was now at a crossroads in his career, having fared poorly as a conventional pitcher and as a knuckleball pitcher.  Would any team be willing to take a chance on a pitcher in his mid-30s who had never been a consistent major league pitcher regardless of how he threw the ball?  One team would.  And that decision ended up changing Dickey's life forever, only this time it was finally in a good way.

How could Omar Minaya say no to this face?  (Photo by Jeff Roberson/AP)

Ten years is a long time for a player to get a second chance at success.  By the time the 2010 season rolled around, R.A. Dickey had gotten third chances, fourth chances, almost as many chances as he had wins.  Cast aside by the Rangers, Brewers, Mariners and Twins, the New York Mets became the latest team to give him a shot to achieve his lifelong dream.  The Mets had just come off a forgettable 2009 campaign in which they were decimated by injuries and poor play, finishing the year with a 70-92 record - their first losing season in five years.  Eleven pitchers started at least five games for the Mets in 2009, but just one pitcher (Mike Pelfrey) made more than 25 starts.  Clearly, Dickey had as much a chance as any pitcher had to make the Opening Day roster.  That is, until he became the first player cut in spring training.

Dickey opened the season not in New York, where the Mets opened the season against the Florida Marlins, but in Buffalo, as a member of the Triple-A Bisons.  Dickey started eight games for Buffalo, but his most memorable start came on April 29 against the Durham Bulls, when he allowed a hit to leadoff batter Fernando Perez, then proceeded to retire the next 27 batters.  The near-perfect game caught the eyes of the Mets' front office, and when the struggling Oliver Perez was removed from the starting rotation in mid-May, Dickey was called up to take his place.  He would never be sent back to the minors again.

After posting a 4-2 record with a stellar 2.23 ERA at Buffalo, Dickey proved his minor league dominance was not a fluke, going 6-0 with a 2.33 ERA in his first seven starts with the Mets.  Dickey's hot streak was contagious, as the Mets won 24 of 34 games after he made his debut.  But the 2010 Mets were a very streaky team, and just as soon as they became unexpected contenders, they regressed back to their 2009 selves.  This time, it was the offense that failed to wake up after hitting the snooze button one too many times.  Dickey had a brilliant month of July, posting a 1.51 ERA in six starts and holding opposing hitters to a miniscule .259 on-base percentage.  But as great as Dickey was in July, his teammates were the exact opposite, scoring just 13 runs in the six starts.  A month that should have produced many victories for Dickey saw him and his teammates emerge victorious just once, and Dickey needed to shut out the Cardinals into the ninth inning to earn that one win.  Three starts later, not even an anemic offense could prevent Dickey from earning a near-historic win.

The Mets had been a season-high 11 games over .500 as late as June 27.  Six weeks later, they were back at .500, struggling to stay relevant in the National League wild card race.  On August 13, the Mets hosted the three-time defending NL East champion Phillies at Citi Field, with Dickey squaring off against Cole Hamels.  Both pitchers brought their A-games to the mound, putting zero after zero on the scoreboard through five innings.  But in addition to the zeroes under the "R" column for both teams, the Phillies also had a zero under the "H" as well, as Dickey had held Philadelphia hitless through five.  The 35,440 fans in attendance were all aware that no Met had ever tossed a no-hitter as Dickey and the Mets entered the sixth, an inning that would begin with Dickey striking out the light-hitting Wilson Valdez.  But a soft single by Dickey's mound opponent, Cole Hamels, ended his quest for baseball immortality.  Hamels' hit would be the only one produced by the Phillies all game, as Dickey went on to pitch a complete game won by the Mets, 1-0, on a sixth-inning, RBI double by Carlos Beltran.  It was the first complete game and first shutout for Dickey since August 20, 2003.

Dickey's one-hitter - the 35th in Mets history - pushed the Mets' record to 58-57.  The team would spend just three more days above the break-even point the rest of the season, finishing the year with a 79-83 record.  Dickey's final numbers (11-9, 2.84 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 104 strikeouts, 174 innings pitched) were all easily career-bests and earned him his first multi-year contract, giving him financial and job security for the first time in his 14 professional seasons.  It also guaranteed he would start the 2011 season in a team's starting rotation for the first time in five years.

The 2011 campaign - his second as a Met - would begin with Dickey allowing an unearned run in a victory over the Marlins.  But that was as good as it got for Dickey during the first two months of the season, as the right-hander was inconsistent over his next ten starts, going 1-6 with a 4.90 ERA and 1.50 WHIP.  Dickey finally turned things around on June 5, pitching eight innings of one-run ball against the Atlanta Braves to earn his third victory of the season.  But once again, the Mets' bats became dormant whenever Dickey took the mound, only this time it lasted for more than just one month.

Beginning with his fine performance against the Braves, Dickey posted a 2.74 ERA for the remainder of the season and had an exceptional .285 on-base percentage against him.  But despite regaining his ability to keep his opponents off the scoreboard, the Mets weren't doing much to put wins in his pocket.  Dickey won just five of his last 20 starts in 2011, even though he allowed two runs or fewer in 12 of those starts.  Here's a perfect example of how frustrating it must have been for the veteran pitcher in 2011.  He allowed no more than six hits in 11 of his final 20 starts, but earned the victory in just one of those games.

The Mets didn't earn many victories either in 2011, completing their third consecutive losing season with a 77-85 record under first-year manager Terry Collins.  The 77 wins represented a two-win drop-off from the previous season, Jerry Manuel's last as the team's skipper.  Although Dickey surpassed 200 innings for the first time in 2011 and finished the year with a respectable 3.28 ERA, he could only manage an 8-13 record.  It was the first time Dickey had reached double digits in losses in a single season.

Although the Mets had a quiet off-season leading into the 2012 campaign, it was far from quiet for R.A. Dickey.  Dickey embarked on a quest to scale Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for women and girls in Mumbai who had been sexually abused or were at the risk of being exploited.  Soon after he successfully completed the long trek, Dickey released a tell-all memoir, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest For Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball.  The book touched upon his ascension from minor league journeyman to his time with the Mets, as well as his own sexual abuse he suffered as a child.

Dickey's time as a media darling did not stop there, as he was prominently featured in the documentary, Knuckleball!  By the time the curtains had opened on the 2012 season, the whole country knew about R.A. Dickey, not just baseball fans in New York.  Dickey's off-season exploits thrust him into the spotlight for the first time in his career.  His performance on the field made sure he stayed there.

Dickey won his first two starts of the year in 2012, defeating the Braves at Citi Field and the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.  But his third start, also against the Braves, was a disaster.  Pitching at rain-soaked Turner Field - soggy conditions are like kryptonite to Dickey's super pitch - Dickey allowed eight runs in 4 innings, the most runs Dickey had allowed in a game since August 20, 2008, when he gave up an eight-spot as a member of the Seattle Mariners.  It was also one more run than he allowed in the record-tying six-homer game against the Tigers in 2006.  Looking back on his effort, Dickey had one thing to say about pitching in adverse weather conditions.

"I hate the rain," Dickey said matter-of-factly.  "I'm like the Wicked Witch of the West.  Water is no good."

Three days after his poor start against the Braves, Dickey attended the premiere of Knuckleball! at the Tribeca Film Festival, where he mingled with fans and taught children of all ages how to throw his signature pitch.  He did not seem like a man who had just pitched his worst game in four years.  Rather, he was at peace with himself and his effort, and seemed eager to get back on the mound to erase the bad taste left by the Braves.

Yeah, that's me (a child of all ages) getting knuckleball lessons from Mr. Dickey.  Jealous?

Four days after the film premiere, Dickey was back on the mound to face the Marlins at Citi Field.  This time the weather conditions were far more knuckleball-friendly, as Dickey held Miami to one run in seven innings to earn his third victory.  Dickey continued to roll along, and by mid-May, he was 5-1 with a 3.75 ERA.  But beginning with his start on May 22, Dickey's efforts were becoming superhuman, proving that the liquid kryptonite he endured in Atlanta was just a thing of the past.

From May 22 to June 18, Dickey won all six of his starts, allowing two runs (one earned) in 48⅔ innings for a microscopic 0.18 ERA.  Dickey wasn't just keeping opposing teams off the scoreboard with his knuckler.  He was keeping opposing hitters off-balance as well, using impeccable control not usually associated with an erratic pitch to strike out 63 batters while walking only five.  Included in his sizzling stretch were back-to-back complete-game one-hit shutouts.  Dickey became the first pitcher to accomplish that feat since Toronto's Dave Stieb, who threw his consecutive gems in September 1988.  In addition, Dickey became just the second Met to manufacture three complete-game one-hitters in his career and the first since Tom Seaver, who pitched five one-hitters as a Met.  (David Cone participated in three one-hitters, but needed relief help in one of them.)

Dickey's dominance took a brief early summer hiatus from June 24 to July 24 as he allowed five runs or more in four of his six starts.  He also gave up two runs in an unexpected relief appearance.  But Dickey did have one memorable outing during this period, appearing in his first All-Star Game.  The knuckleballer pitched a scoreless inning in the Midsummer Classic, striking out the Angels' Mark Trumbo and inducing an inning-ending double play from eventual Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

After his one-month "slump", Dickey returned to his early season form.  From July 29 to August 31, Dickey allowed just 36 hits in seven starts while striking out 51 batters.  He also produced a 1.73 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and earned four wins.  Included in this stretch was his fourth and fifth complete games of the season and his third shutout.  Dickey would end up leading the league in both categories.  Dickey's first September start produced his 18th win of the season, making him the Mets' first pitcher to surpass 17 victories since Frank Viola in 1990.  Viola won 20 games that year, becoming the fifth pitcher in Mets history to attain that lofty win total.  By season's end, Dickey would become the sixth.

On September 27, as the Mets closed out their home schedule, Dickey took the mound against the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, who were on their way to a record 20th consecutive losing season.  Dickey struggled early, allowing run-scoring hits to Rod Barajas and Jordy Mercer in the second inning and a solo homer to Barajas in the fourth.  But Dickey recovered quickly, striking out five of six batters soon after the Barajas blast.  The Mets, meanwhile, did everything they could to give Dickey a lead to work with, scoring a total of five runs in the fifth and sixth innings.  The big blow came in the sixth, when David Wright launched a tiebreaking three-run homer off Bucs starter Kevin Correia.  Dickey went on to pitch seven and two-thirds innings, matching his career high by striking out 13 batters.  But Dickey's landmark win was very much in jeopardy in the ninth after reliever Jon Rauch gave up a two-run homer to Alex Presley.  With the lead down to one, manager Terry Collins summoned Bobby Parnell to close out the game and preserve Dickey's victory.  Parnell retired both batters he faced, eliciting a massive roar from the crowd (which only slightly drowned out the fans who were finally able to exhale) and earning Dickey his well-deserved 20th win.

Dickey, being an expert wordsmith as well as a talented knuckleball artist, had much to say after achieving what no one thought possible entering the 2012 campaign.

"Growing up, you just want to compete, and then once you have the weaponry to compete, you want to be really good, and then when you're really good, you want to be supernaturally good.  For me, there's been this steady metamorphosis from just surviving to being a craftsman, and then, ultimately, the hope is to be an artist in what you do.  This year is kind of representative of that for me."

The 2012 Mets finished the year with an unspectacular 74-88 record, but Dickey's season was one for the ages.  Dickey posted a 20-6 record, to go with a 2.73 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.  Dickey also led the league in strikeouts (230), innings pitched (233⅔), complete games (5) and shutouts (3).  Not bad for a pitcher who worked his magic for a sub-.500 team.  In fact, Dickey became the first 20-game winner on a losing team since 1997, when Roger Clemens won 21 games for the 76-86 Blue Jays and Brad Radke earned 20 victories for the 68-94 Twins.

Dickey's five complete games were the most by a Mets pitcher since Dwight Gooden completed seven games in 1993 and his three shutouts were more than any Met had produced in a single season since 1992, when David Cone also twirled three such gems.  But no pitcher in Mets history can match one aspect of Dickey's stellar campaign.

By winning 20 games for a 74-win team, Dickey earned 27.0% of the Mets' wins in 2012.  Although not quite on par with Steve Carlton's 1972 campaign (Carlton earned 27 of the Phillies' 59 wins in 1972), Dickey's feat allowed him to become the pitcher who accounted for the highest percentage of his team's wins in club history, surpassing Tom Seaver's record of 26.8%, accomplished in 1975 when "The Franchise" earned 22 of the Mets' 82 wins.

Dickey's 20th win was just the chocolate sauce on his ice cream sundae of a season.  The cherry on top came in November, when Dickey won the National League Cy Young Award in a landslide over Clayton Kershaw and Gio Gonzalez.  Dickey became the third Met to win the award, joining Tom Seaver (1969, 1973, 1975) and Dwight Gooden (1985).  But like all satisfying desserts, eventually we reach the end and are left wanting more.  Only with R.A. Dickey, Mets fans never got another taste.

After picking up Dickey's $5 million option for the 2013 season, the Mets traded the popular pitcher to Toronto for catcher Travis d'Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard, two of the most valuable minor league jewels in the Blue Jays' organization.  Since the trade, d'Arnaud has become the Mets' No. 1 catcher.  And by the summer of 2014, he should be calling pitches at Citi Field for Syndergaard, whose vast repertoire has impressed all those who have watched him pitch.

Although Dickey's first year in Toronto produced a mediocre 14-13 record, it was still two more wins than any Met earned in 2013, as Dillon Gee led the team with a dozen victories.  One thing that didn't change as a result of Dickey's departure was the Mets' win total, as New York posted its second straight 74-88 season in 2013.  Ironically, that was the Blue Jays' record as well in Dickey's first season with the team.

In just three years with the Mets, R.A. Dickey went from being a reclamation project to a Cy Young Award winner.  He began his career in New York as a relatively unknown player to Mets fans, and ended it as one of the most beloved personalities in franchise history.  Dickey charmed fans with his approachability and candor.  He was also a media darling, eschewing the clichés of the modern athlete for well-thought-out responses that were both refreshing and unique.  Needless to say, the erudite pitcher was missed by all those who crossed paths with him on and off the field.

One such person who had a strong connection to the former Met is Taryn Cooper, a highly respected Mets blogger and podcaster who has been a fan of the team since she was a young girl.  Both Dickey and Ms. Cooper majored in English literature as collegians, making Ms. Cooper's connection to the pitcher extra special.  Here is her story.

"Friend and fellow blogger Jason Fry (one half of Faith and Fear in Flushing) probably said it best, when he said, 'If R.A. Dickey didn't exist, Mets fans probably would have made him up.'  And if you are a Mets fan, and don't get that, you may need to be schooled in some Mets history.

Because I got that statement.  Though Sidd Finch was an April Fools' Joke, the idea of a French horn playing, yoga enthusiast, quiet, reflective man who threw a 160+ mph pitch appealed to Mets fans, and still does to this day.  Why is that?  Because Mets fans like the underdog.  That's why stories like the Hendu Can-Do walk off home run still resonates 30+ years later. 

And R.A. Dickey was the underdog, the guy with a hard luck story who faced obstacles every step of the way, yet persevered and won.  Not only did he win, he certainly was the best on the worst.  He won 20 games for a 4th place team.  He not only won 20 games, he did so with a quirky pitch AND in a year that he published an autobiography where he stated that he would probably never WIN a Cy Young Award.  He did that year as well.

Even the story of R.A. Dickey couldn't be fully savored by Mets fans though.  That's why he sticks with us.  We wanted to celebrate his accomplishments Opening Day 2013 at CitiField.  But we were not allowed that opportunity because he was the centerpiece in a trade in what could possibly be one of the best trades in Mets history.   He wasn't bitter.  He took the high road as Dickey normally did.  What else could he do?

That didn't stop Mets fans from loving him and supporting him, no matter what the team.  If you think about it, Robert Allen Dickey was his own self-made media mogul.  He was on several television shows, he wrote a book, he was in the center of a documentary based on the pitch he threw, and he was a Twitter personality.  What Mets fans truly appreciated was his likability and accessibility to the fans.  He is a self-proclaimed Star Wars geek, which is a faction in and of itself.  He wasn't a cliché-ridden interview, he had carefully thought out responses and talked literature with his fans.  Heck, he and I even talked about Shakespeare and Hemingway, and I told him at a book signing that I'd love to take a class on Faulkner that HE taught.  See, no other baseball player let alone any Met would know what the heck I was talking about.  He did, though.  

This fanbase may be cynical at times.  But R.A. Dickey brought out the best in us.  He made us see that even in darkest times, we could believe that good times were around the corner.  I just wish he was around to share in the very bright future of the team."

Dickey celebrates his 20th win in 2012.  The fans, to this day, celebrate him.  (Photo by Barton Silverman/NY Times)

Over the years, the Mets have had several extended stretches of success.  But they have also suffered through their share of lean years.  And when the team has played poorly, fans have latched onto individual players.  After all, it's much easier to root for an athlete who plays hard than for a team that hardly plays.  During the Mets' seminal years, Al Jackson, Jim Hickman and Ron Hunt gave fans a reason to believe in the team, even as they were losing at an unbelievable rate.  When Shea Stadium was mockingly referred to as Grant's Tomb, Lee Mazzilli, Hubie Brooks and Dave Kingman shared the last laugh.  And during the time when the Mets were the worst team money could buy, Todd Hundley and Rico Brogna gave fans more bang for their buck.

The current incarnation of the Mets has produced five consecutive losing seasons.  Attendance has dropped steadily at Citi Field since it opened its doors for the first time in 2009.  But in the three years R.A. Dickey called the park home, fans had a player they could easily root for. 

Walt Disney once said, "If you can dream it, you can do it."  R.A. Dickey was a dreamer who always believed in himself and his ability to perform on the mound, even as the game was telling him otherwise.  Setback after setback would have quashed many player's dreams.  But not Dickey.  A competitor since birth, Dickey refused to stop dreaming.  And after many years of hardships, his dreams finally came true.

R.A. Dickey is a great American success story who just happened to write his greatest narrative as a member of an unsuccessful team.  In 2010, the Mets took a chance on the struggling knuckleball pitcher, trying to find lightning in a bottle.  Within two years, Dickey guaranteed that his story would have a happy ending.  Stories like that are the stuff dreams are made of.

Note:  The Best On The Worst was a thirteen-part weekly series (that's "was", as in you just read the final chapter) spotlighting the greatest Mets players who just happened to play on some not-so-great Mets teams.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 6, 2014: Todd Hundley 
January 13, 2014: Al Jackson
January 20, 2014: Lee Mazzilli
January 27, 2014: Steve Trachsel
February 3, 2014: Rico Brogna
February 10, 2014: Skip Lockwood 
February 17, 2014: Ron Hunt
February 24, 2014: Craig Swan 
March 3, 2014: Hubie Brooks 
March 10, 2014: Joel Youngblood 
March 17, 2014: Jim Hickman 
March 24, 2014: Dave Kingman

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Magic 8-Ball Predicts The 2014 Mets Season

It's almost time to begin another 162-game journey with the Mets.  But will it be a journey that leads us to unexpected happiness or another season of "been there, done that"?

At Studious Metsimus, we always want to know in advance what the Mets are going to do prior to Opening Day.  We figure that if there's something to look forward to during the upcoming season, we should be prepared for it.  Similarly, if there's something we wish we didn't know, we should also share it with our readers.  Why should we keep all the yummy disappointment to ourselves?

Since the end of the 2013 campaign, the Mets have added two new outfielders in Chris Young and Curtis Granderson.  Young is signed to a one-year deal because the Mets want to be winners of this year's Marlon Byrd Award.  That's the honor given to the front office who gets lucky with a reclamation project for one year, then trades him away for prospects at the trade deadline, hoping he signs a multi-year deal the following season with a division rival (preferably the Phillies) who foolishly overpays for his services.  Granderson was brought aboard with a four-year contract because the Mets want to prove that not every power-hitting outfielder who comes to Citi Field on a four-year deal is going to turn into Jason Bay.

In addition to Young and Granderson, the Mets added 40-year-old Bartolo Colon to be the team's temporary replacement for the injured Matt Harvey, as well as the club's elder statesman and nutrition consultant.  This probably also explains why Harvey is adamant about returning before the end of the 2014 season.  Not because he wants to be the oldest guy in the clubhouse (which he won't be for many years), but because he doesn't want to trip over empty KFC buckets in the clubhouse.

Will the Mets' new additions cause the team's fans to party like it's 1986?  Or will they get over this off-season's acquisitions almost as quickly as Cole Hamels racks up losses against the Mets?

The answers to those questions and more are the reasons why we have awoken our Magic 8-Ball from its yearly hibernation.  So sit back, relax, make yourself some chicken nachos (not necessarily in that order - we realize it would be difficult to make yourself a snack after you've sat down and begun to relax), and prepare yourselves for the wise words that can only come from a quick shake of the Studious Metsimus Magic 8-Ball!  Take it away, M8B!

Oh, sorry about that.  I won't make that mistake again.  So let's jump right into it, Magic 8-Ball.  What are your thoughts on the team this year?  Do you think they'll be competitive in the NL East?

My bad.  How do you feel the Mets will fare in the division in 2014?

 You do realize there are only five teams in the NL East, right?

Let's move on.  The Mets signed Chris Young, Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon to free-agent contracts during the off-season.  Which of the three players do you think will have the greatest impact at Citi Field?

Wow, you seem quite sure of yourself.  Why do you think it's absolutely Chris Young?

I don't understand.  What does his proximity to Shake Shack have to do with his value on the team?

Okay.  I think we're beyond fat jokes here.  Everyone's doing them.  You're better than that.

I'll forget I ever asked that question.  Now, Magic 8-Ball, if you were manager Terry Collins, who would you want to have a bounceback season from the most?

Zack Wheeler?  Are you crazy?  Wheeler had a great rookie season, going 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA.  Why would you think Terry Collins would want him to bounce back?  What is he bouncing back from?

I see your point.  So let's shift back to the offense.  Ike Davis and Lucas Duda both spent extended periods of time at AAA-Las Vegas, yet still managed to strike out a combined 203 times at the major league level.  They drove in a total of 66 runs for the Mets, so for every RBI they produced, they struck out more than three times.  Now they're both vying for playing time at first base.  What's the easy solution for this conundrum?

If only the batting-helmeted one was still active and not about to turn 46 this coming August.

That's another outstanding point, Magic 8-Ball!  You're on a roll today!

Alas, Tejada is no Jose Reyes on the field.

You're quite the savvy sphere!  Let's try a lighter question now.  David Wright was just named the face of MLB.  If baseball named other players as the arm or leg of baseball, which players would those be?

Excuse me?  What are you talking about?  Did I say something wrong?

So because you're an armless, legless face, that means no one can ask you a question about those body parts?

You're a little too sensitive for a Magic 8-Ball, you know that?  So I'm not getting anything from you on this topic?

I guess that's better than nothing.  So one more question on an individual player before I ask you for your prediction for the Mets' record in 2014.  What do you think Matt Harvey will do to stay occupied during his year of rehab and recovery from Tommy John surgery?

What's that?

I didn't know he was trying to take your job.  Oh, wait.  You're talking about that tweet he put out predicting that Harvey Day would happen in 2014.  I honestly don't think you have to worry about him challenging you in the prognosticating profession.

>Snicker<  You really didn't just say you were "quite shaken" after reading Harvey's tweet, did you?  A Magic 8-Ball being shaken?  >Chuckle<

Okay, I'm sorry.  Final question.  What do you think will be the Mets' final record in 2014 and where will they finish in the NL East?

Aw, come on!  Can't you give the Mets an extra win so they can at least finish the year with a .500 record?

And on that note, I think it's time to pack away the Studious Metsimus Magic 8-Ball in a box, preferably a dark one with no air holes, and not let it out for another year at the very least.  Hmmm, I wonder what Matt Harvey is doing right now...

Enjoy the upcoming baseball season, Mets fans!  And as always, please help control the snarky sphere population.  Have your Magic 8-Ball spayed or neutered.


Hey, kids!  The Magic 8-Ball has made predictions before.  To see what it said prior to each of the previous four seasons, please click on the links below:


Joorray for Jenrry!

The late Nino Espinosa would be proud that Jennry Mejia is in the Mets rotation.  What else would he be proud of?

John Lannan imagined himself as the Mets' fifth starter in 2014, but got an "oh, no" from his bosses.  Similarly, Daisuke Matsuzaka pressed his luck for the spot, but all he got was a whammy.

The race to fill the fifth slot in Mets starting rotation is now over, as Jenrry Mejia has locked up the coveted role, pushing Dice-K off the 25-man roster and sending Lannan to the bullpen.

The news of Mejia's inclusion in the rotation comes four years after former manager Jerry Manuel made a foolish comparison between Mejia and Mariano Rivera, then rushed the then-20-year-old to the majors, only to see the promising right-hander wilt under the big league spotlight.  Poor performances and a magnetic attraction to injuries kept Mejia to 55 innings pitched at the major league level from 2010 to 2012, before a late-season call-up in 2013 showed what he was capable of when not rushed into service by a gangsta manager who was clearly wearing the wrong prescription glasses.

Mejia started five games for the Mets in 2013, posting a solid 2.30 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.  His 27-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio was a significant improvement from what Mejia accomplished in his previous stints with the team (30 strikeouts, 29 walks in 55 innings).

Daisuke Matsuzaka could potentially be brought back to start for Jonathon Niese if the disabled lefty can't make his scheduled start on April 6, but that's still up in the air.  One thing that isn't is Jenrry Mejia's status with the Mets.  For the second time in five seasons, Mejia has made the team out of spring training.  He wasn't ready for the big show in 2010.  Now with four extra years of minor league seasoning, Mejia has his health (mostly) and his outstanding repertoire intact.

It will be quite interesting to see if the former top pitching prospect can became a mainstay in the Mets rotation.  He's certainly earned the right to do so.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Milestones Within Reach for Members of the 2014 Mets

On Monday, the Mets will begin their 53rd season of play, looking to begin the season with a 1-0 record for the 35th time.  New York's .654 winning percentage in season-opening games is tops in the majors, ahead of the Baltimore Orioles, who are second with a .580 success rate on Opening Day.  (For the record, the Mets are 27-25 on Opening Day II, a dropoff from their won-loss record in Game 1s, but still not bad for a team that's nearly 400 games under .500 in all other games played.)

The Mets would like to continue their team success on Opening Day in 2014, and obviously would like that magic to spread to all other games throughout the season, unless if the Wilpons have been secretly replaced by Rachel Phelps, the "owner" of the Cleveland Indians in Major League.

While the team attempts to put big numbers up on the scoreboard and the win column, several of its players are also close to reaching significant individual milestones.  Some of the milestones will get honorable mentions on the Citi Field scoreboard and will cause the players who reached them to receive standing ovations.  Unfortunately, some other milestones will be embarrassing to the players and will cause them to send me direct messages asking me not to share those moments with their friends or loved ones.  To which I say, "Stop striking out so much, Ike, and I wouldn't have to write about you approaching the 500-strikeout plateau in well under 2,000 at-bats!"

But I digress.

Anyhoo, here are the milestones that your favorite Mets players should have no problem reaching at some point during the 2014 season.  And once those players reach those numbers, please feel free to share them on Twitter before anyone else gets a chance to do so.  That way your friends can either marvel at your Mets knowledge or call you the biggest geek they know.  Enjoy!

Attainable Individual Milestones (Position Players)

Ike Davis better not set any new club records for striking poses with his eyes closed after striking out.

David Wright:

  • Needs 31 home runs to surpass Darryl Strawberry as the Mets' all-time leader.
  • Needs 53 plate appearances and 263 at-bats to knock Ed Kranepool down to No. 2 in both categories.
  • Needs 17 stolen bases for 200 and 19 steals to be ahead of every Met not named Jose Reyes or Mookie Wilson.
  • Needs 1 hit-by-pitch to end Ron Hunt's four-decade reign as the team's top punching bag.

Daniel Murphy:

  • Needs 11 home runs and 8 steals to become the 11th Met to attain 50 HR and 50 SB.
  • Needs 18 doubles to enter the Mets' all-time top ten in that category.
  • Needs to reach double digits in homers and steals to prove 2013 wasn't a fluke season.

Ike Davis:

  • Needs 33 homers to reach 100 and to set a single-season career-high.
  • Needs 19 doubles to reach 100 and to still be well behind Daniel Murphy and David Wright in two-baggers.
  • Needs 89 strikeouts for 500 and just as many boos.
  • Needs 1 good season to avoid being traded or demoted.

Curtis Granderson:

  • Needs 20 runs scored for 800.
  • Needs 1 double for 200.
  • Needs 1 double to become the 11th MLB player in the last 50 years to reach 200 doubles, 80 triples and 200 homers.
  • Needs 1 decent season to have a better Mets career than Jason Bay.

Ruben Tejada:

  • Needs a whole lotta luck.

Attainable Individual Milestones (Pitchers)

Bartolo Colon almost fit within the borders of this photo.  Almost.

Jonathon Niese:

  • Needs 7 wins for 50.
  • Needs 97 strikeouts to enter the Mets' all-time top ten.
  • Needs to stay off the disabled list, please.

Dillon Gee:

  • Needs 19 starts for 100.
  • Needs 130 strikeouts for 500.
  • Needs to repeat his second half of 2013 and stretch it out for both halves of 2014.

Bartolo Colon:

  • Needs 11 wins for 200.
  • Needs 50 strikeouts for 2,000.
  • Needs to turn Harvey Day into Día de Colon.
  • Needs to stay as far away from Shake Shack during his bullpen sessions.

Zack Wheeler:

  • Needs 6 wins to have more career victories than Matt Harvey.  (For that matter, Noah Syndergaard needs 13 victories to join Wheeler in that respect.)

Bobby Parnell:

  • Needs 2 games for 300.
  • Needs 14 saves for 50.
  • Needs 22 saves to finally knock Braden Looper out of the Mets' all-time top ten saves leaders.
  • Needs to not turn his neck whenever he gives up a long fly ball.  (It's probably not leaving the park anyway and he's still recovering from neck surgery.)

With just 22 saves in 2014, Bobby Parnell will cause Braden Looper to walk right out of the Mets' top ten.  Let's go Bobby!!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Best On The Worst: Dave Kingman

In the late 1990s, Nike had a famous ad in which future Hall of Fame pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine wondered why they didn't get the attention afforded to slugger Mark McGwire.  Upon realizing that McGwire's adulation arose from his propensity to hit prodigious home runs, the two decided to hit the gym, "bulking up" so they could hit long batting practice blasts as well.  Actress Heather Locklear appeared to take notice at their newfound power, calling out Glavine's name and causing Maddux to utter the now-famous catch phrase, "chicks dig the long ball".  But in reality, all Locklear wanted to know was if the pitchers had seen McGwire around the batting cage.

The commercial, although funny and unrealistic (Maddux and Glavine combined to hit six home runs in nearly 3,500 career plate appearances), did get one thing right.  Baseball fans - including "chicks" - really do get excited about home run hitters, especially ones who hit titanic blasts.  Mark McGwire hit 583 home runs.  But he only had 1,043 hits that didn't leave the park, and he also struck out nearly 1,600 times in his 15-plus years in the big leagues.  But fans flocked to catch a glimpse of the red-headed slugger despite the fact that he was purely a one-dimensional hitter.

When McGwire was called up the majors for the first time in 1986, he became teammates with another great power hitter - one who could hit balls a mile whenever he didn't swing and miss at them, and one who also had no desire to keep his hits within the confines of the ballpark.  This slugger finished his career as McGwire's teammate in Oakland, but hit the plurality of his home runs as a member of the New York Mets.  And when he came to bat for the Mets in the mid-'70s and early '80s, "chicks" - and everyone else - stopped what they were doing to see what he was about to do.

More powerful than a locomotive.  It's a bird.  It's a plane.  It's Dave Kingman!

David Arthur Kingman was a huge man.  Standing six-and-a-half feet tall, the hulking first baseman and outfielder was selected by the San Francisco Giants as the first overall pick in the 1970 June secondary draft.  Kingman made his debut a year later, and made his first trip to the postseason as a member of the National League West champion Giants.  But after hitting .278 in 41 games as a rookie in 1971, Kingman could only muster a .218 batting average from 1972 to 1974.  However, he did manage to hit 71 home runs over the three seasons, giving him some value as a major league talent.

But according to Giants owner Horace Stoneham, Kingman was unhappy in San Francisco and wanted to be traded from the Bay Area team.  The Mets, who had coveted the young slugger for years, had offered pitcher Jerry Koosman for Kingman in 1973, but could not come to an agreement with San Francisco because the Giants asked for former Rookie of the Year pitcher Jon Matlack instead.  Two years after almost becoming a Met, Kingman finally switched coasts after the Mets purchased him from the Giants for $150,000.

When Kingman arrived in New York prior to the 1975 season, he did not have a position on the field to play.  Kingman preferred playing first base, but John Milner was the incumbent at that position.  Left field - another position Kingman could play - was also taken, as long-time Met Cleon Jones had manned the position for the better part of a decade.  But Jones had injured his knee and would not be coming north with the team for the start of the season, giving Kingman the opportunity to play every day until Jones came back from his rehab assignment.

Unfortunately, two problems arose for Jones during his time in extended spring training.  First, he was arrested for indecent exposure when police found him and a female companion sleeping nude in the back of a van.  And second, Kingman got off to a powerful start, hitting home runs in three of his first four games and reaching double digits in homers by his 46th game.  Jones, who finished the 1974 season as the team's all-time leader in home runs with 93, had hit 13 long balls for the Mets in '74.  Kingman had surpassed that number by the All-Star Break.  In fact, Kingman hit 13 homers in the month of July alone, setting a new franchise record for round trippers in a single month.  Less than two weeks after the Midsummer Classic, Jones' career with the Mets came to an abrupt end, as he was given his unconditional release by the team.

Jones' release came after an 11-game stretch by Kingman in which he batted .348 with seven homers and 14 RBI.  One month after Kingman's torrid stretch, he was finally moved to his preferred first base position to make room for rookie left fielder Mike Vail, who had embarked on a blistering streak of his own - a club-record 23-game hitting skein from August 25 to September 15.  Although Kingman continued to hit with tremendous power at his new position (12 HR in his last 39 games), he didn't do much else with the bat, batting .199 with 58 strikeouts in 161 at-bats.  Still, fans continued to watch in awe every time the Sky King stepped up to the plate, especially on September 18, when Kingman penned a new entry in the Mets' record book.

With the season winding down and the Mets barely hanging on to their division title hopes, the team welcomed the Chicago Cubs to Shea Stadium.  Starting pitcher Hank Webb made the Cubs feel very welcome, allowing four runs without retiring a batter.  In doing so, Webb became the ninth pitcher in Mets history to fail to record an out in a start, and just the second to accomplish the feat at Shea Stadium (Nolan Ryan was the first, turning the terrible trick in 1971).  The Mets trailed 4-0 before they came to bat, but slowly chipped away at the Cubs' lead, scoring a run in the third and two runs in the sixth.  After the Cubs tacked on an insurance run in the top of the eighth, the Mets tied it in their half of the inning - an inning that started on a double by Dave Kingman.

The game remained tied as the Mets came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, and extra innings loomed after Cubs' closer Darold Knowles retired the first two batters in the frame.  But Knowles - who just two years earlier had stymied the Mets as a member of the Oakland A's in the World Series, pitching in all seven games and recording the final out in Game Seven - couldn't retire Rusty Staub, who laced a single off the lefty reliever.  That brought up Kingman, who exorcised the Knowles demon from 1973 by exercising his right to walk off the field as a winner.  Kingman's two-run, game-winning blast gave the Mets a thrilling, come-from-behind 7-5 victory and also gave him 35 homers on the season, breaking Frank Thomas' single-season club record.

Kingman would go on to hit another round tripper before the end of the season, finishing the year with 36 homers and 88 RBI.  Although Kingman hit just .231 for the year, that figure still represented his highest batting average over a full season at the time.  Kingman also set a career high with 22 doubles and led the Mets with seven stolen bases, making him just the third Met to lead the team in homers and steals in the same season after Tommie Agee (1970, 1971) and John Milner (1974).  But with great power comes great strikeout totals, as Kingman fanned a career-high 153 times in 1975.  He also rarely scored when he wasn't driving himself in, as he crossed the plate just 65 times despite hitting 36 homers.  The 1975 Mets posted a winning record, albeit barely, ending the year with an 82-80 mark.

Despite his high strikeout totals and inability to round the bases without the ball leaving the yard, Kingman became an instant fan-favorite at Shea.  A Dave Kingman at-bat was a celebrated event in Flushing, giving fans a good reason to come rushing back from the concession stands at the risk of dropping their hot dogs or spilling their beer.  The peak of his popularity with Mets fans came in 1976, when he began the year on a sizzling pace.

After going 0-for-7 in his first two games, Kingman unleashed a barrage of booming blasts, belting seven homers over his next seven games and driving in 15 runs.  By late-May, Kingman was leading the league with 17 homers and was hitting around .250, which was quite admirable for a man who was a .226 lifetime hitter coming into the season.  Kingman's best game as a Met came in early June, when he and the team visited Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

The game on June 4 started out without pomp and circumstance for Kingman, as the right fielder (Kingman had been moved to right by new manager Joe Frazier to allow Ed Kranepool and Joe Torre to platoon at first base) popped out to first base in his first at-bat.  But Kingman homered in each of his next three at-bats, victimizing starting pitcher Burt Hooton for a two-run homer in the fourth inning and a three-run blast in the fifth.  Kingman then took reliever Al Downing deep in the seventh inning, launching his second three-run homer of the game.  In all, Kingman drove in eight runs in the Mets' 11-0 whitewashing of the Dodgers, setting a new club record for RBI in a game.  Kingman also became the second Met to produce a home run trifecta, joining Jim Hickman, who accomplished the feat in 1965.

By this time, Kingman had already established himself as the premier home run hitter in the league.  His 30 home runs before the All-Star Break set a team record and his name was being mentioned in the same breath as Hack Wilson and Roger Maris, the National League and major league single-season home run leaders, respectively.

For his outstanding performance during the season's first half, Kingman was selected by the fans to start the All-Star Game for the National League in 1976, making him the seventh Met to receive that honor after Ron Hunt (1964), Jerry Grote (1968), Cleon Jones (1969), Tom Seaver (1970), Bud Harrelson (1971) and Willie Mays (1972).  But less than a week after going 0-for-2 in the Midsummer Classic, Kingman's assault on the single-season home run record came to a crashing end, quite literally.

Dave Kingman always kept his eye on the ball.  He should have done the same with his thumb.

In a game against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium on July 19, pitcher Phil Niekro knuckled a fly ball to left field, where Kingman was making just his fifth start of the season after playing much of the year in right field.  But the man known as Kong took a dive that resembled his namesake's fall from the Empire State Building rather than that of an All-Star outfielder.  As a result, the only thing Kingman caught on the awkward attempt was his thumb under his glove, causing him to spend nearly six weeks on the disabled list with torn ligaments in his left thumb.  Upon his return in late August, Kingman was a shell of his former self.  Other than a two-homer, five-RBI performance against the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 19, Kingman managed to produce just three homers and nine RBI in his other 31 games following his DL stint.

A year after finishing two homers behind Mike Schmidt for the National League home run crown, Kingman settled for second place again, as his time on the disabled list allowed Schmidt to pass him for the title during the season's final week.  Kingman did manage to break his own club record by hitting 37 homers in 1976, but he could have produced an all-time great season had he not been felled by his outfield play.  The Mets, on the other hand, were not hampered by Kingman's injury, as the team went on post an 86-76 record in 1976, which represented the second-highest win total in franchise history.  The team appeared to be headed in the right direction going into the 1977 campaign.  But then everything came crashing down, with Kingman being caught in the rubble.
Going into the 1977 season, Mets chairman M. Donald Grant had made it clear that he did not want to pay his players much money nor did he want to go shopping in the free agent market.  The team's off-the field problems caused by Grant's thriftiness (some would call it cheapness) started to affect their play on the field.  The Mets began the year with a 9-9 record, then proceeded to lose 21 of their next 27 games.  Kingman had spent most of the season complaining about the direction of the team, as well as the fact that no one was listening to his demands for a multi-million dollar contract.

"My only demands are in line with the dollar figures given to other players on other clubs.  The Mets adhere to a policy of trying to remain in their own league on salaries," said Kingman, prior to the start of the 1977 campaign.  "I look around and see the dollar figures of other players and I ask, why?  Why should I play for the old figures the Mets are imposing?"

Clearly, with statements such as that one, Kingman's days as a Met were numbered.  It also didn't help that after the Mets' 9-9 start in 1977, in which Kingman batted .290 with six homers and 18 RBI, he proceeded to bat just .169 with three homers and ten runs batted in over his next 40 games.  Adding more fuel to Kingman's fire was an admission by general manager Joe McDonald, who used statistical data in an attempt to prove that Kingman's offensive production wasn't as valuable as it seemed.

"Dave hits home runs, but he also strikes out a lot.  And we found that he does not rank very high in production," said McDonald in a press conference that was held in response to one of Kingman's own press conferences.  "For example, in pressure situations late in games where you're three runs behind with men on base, Mike Schmidt of Philadelphia knocks in a run 42 percent of the time, Steve Garvey of Los Angeles 36 percent of the time, and Kingman only 18 percent."

As impressive as McDonald's knowledge of pre-sabermetrics was, there was just one little problem with his argument.  It was completely untrue.  Kingman and Schmidt were both .282 hitters in late inning pressure situations during the 1976 season, with Schmidt hitting just one more homer than Kingman.  Garvey was a better hitter in those spots, batting .339, but he hit three fewer homers than Kingman and drove in just five more runs despite having 33 more at-bats in late inning pressure situations than Kingman.

Nothing Kingman said was going to get him a contract similar to the one Reggie Jackson was given by the New York Yankees (five years, $2.96 million), no matter how similar their power numbers were.  It had now become a war of words between Kingman and the front office - a war which Kingman had no chance of winning.  On June 15, 1977, as the midnight hour approached, Kingman was traded to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Paul Siebert and infielder Bobby Valentine.  Siebert would go on to win two games as a Met and Valentine would hit two homers during his Mets tenure.  Kingman would do so much more over the next three-plus seasons.

After bouncing around from the Padres to the Angels to the Yankees in 1977, Kingman joined the Chicago Cubs in 1978, where he became more than just a home run hitter, batting .266 with 28 homers and 79 RBI in just 395 at-bats.  A year later, Kingman had his signature season in the major leagues - the one Mets fans thought they were going to get in 1976 before Kingman's thumb got in the way.  Kingman led the National League with 48 homers in 1979, becoming just the eighth NL player to hit that many home runs in a season.  Kingman also recorded career highs in RBI (115), runs scored (97), batting average (.288) and slugging percentage (.613), leading the league in the latter category.  And of course, he obliterated Mets pitching in 1979, batting .364 with nine homers and 20 RBI.  Six of his nine home runs came at Shea Stadium in just eight games played in his former home park.

How much did the Mets miss Kingman's home run power after they traded him?  From 1977 to 1980, no Met hit more than 17 home runs in a season.  Kingman had already hit 18 homers in 1979 before the season was two months old.  Without question, the Mets needed a powerful hitter in their lineup like Kingman, and as long as M. Donald Grant was calling the shots in the front office, that wasn't going to happen.  But once Grant lost his power and the team had new, forward-thinking owners in Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon, the Mets would get the slugger they coveted, and it would come in the form of - you guessed it - Dave Kingman.

It's snow joke!  After nearly four years away from the team, Dave Kingman was a Met again.

In 1981, the Mets brought back Kingman, as well as fellow mid-'70s slugger Rusty Staub back into the fold.  But familiar faces did little to erase what had become a familiar sight at Shea Stadium - losses.  The Mets got off to a 17-34 start in 1981, and another season appeared lost despite the new acquisitions.  Kingman was doing his part, producing 14 homers and 32 RBI by June 11, which included home runs in a club-record four straight games in late May.

But June 11 was also the last game the Mets played until August, as the players' strike wiped out the entire midsection of the 1981 season.  It also gave the Mets unexpected hope, as baseball decided it would give split division titles to teams that finished in first place before the strike.  That meant the slate was wiped clean for teams like the Mets who struggled during the season's first half, allowing them the opportunity to play well in the second half to earn the second half division crown.

The Mets took full advantage of their opportunity in the second half, competing for a split division title until late September.  As late as September 21, the Mets were only 2½ games behind the first-place Cardinals and one game in back of the second-place Expos with 12 games to play.  One of the reasons for the Mets' second-half surge was Kingman, who came back from the strike on fire.  In his first dozen games after the season resumed play, Kingman batted .319 with five homers and 14 RBI.  And during the team's mid-September push, Kingman was very much an integral part of the Mets' four-game winning streak from the 18th through the 21st, reaching base six times and driving in four runs.

New York fell short of a unique postseason berth in 1981, losing eight of its final 12 games to fall out of the race for the second-half division title, but Kingman came up big, leading the team with 22 homers and 59 RBI while splitting time between left field and first base.  However, Kingman was the only player on the team who hit for any power, as no one else on the club could muster more than six homers.

The Mets tried to give Kingman a power buddy in 1982, acquiring George Foster from the Cincinnati Reds.  On paper, it looked like a great deal for the Mets, as the team now had a dangerous one-two punch in the middle of the order in Kingman and Foster.  It also allowed Kingman to become the team's full-time first baseman, as Foster was a left fielder by trade.  It's too bad Foster forgot to pack his power when he made the trip from the Queen City to Queens.

From 1976 to 1981, Foster averaged 33 homers and 112 RBI per year, including a 22 HR, 90 RBI performance in the strike-shortened 1981 season.  But Foster came nowhere near the numbers he put up in the abbreviated '81 campaign despite playing in 151 games for the Mets in '82.  With 13 homers and 70 RBI, Foster was a colossal bust in his first year with the Mets, leaving Kingman to put the team on his back when it needed a power boost.  At least Kingman came through on his end of the deal.

By the end of May, the Mets were one of the most surprising teams in the league.  New York was in second place in the NL East as they headed into June - the proud owners of a 27-21 record - with Kingman providing his usual power (14 HR, 38 RBI).  His first home run in June proved to be quite memorable, as it was his 119th homer as a Met, breaking Ed Kranepool's franchise record.

(YouTube video courtesy of CourtsideTweets)

But Kingman, despite being known as a power hitter, was not producing extra-base hits other than home runs, as he had only been able to hit three doubles and no triples during the season's first two months.  That odd trend would continue throughout the rest of the season so that when Kingman went through any period of time in which he wasn't hitting home runs, the team would be left with a bunch of singles hitters.  They would also be left with a bunch of losses.

For example, after clubbing 14 home runs in April and May, Kingman managed just three homers in June.  Not coincidentally, the Mets were 9-18 for the month.  Likewise, from August 8 to September 3, the Mets lost 21 of 24 games, which included a 15-game losing streak.  During that 24-game stretch of futility, Kingman left the yard three times.  He also produced just one other extra-base hit in the 24 games - a double on August 29 against the Braves.  In 1982, Kingman drove in runs in 58 of the 149 games he played.  The Mets went 29-29 in those games.  They were 28-63 when Kingman failed to drive in a run. 

Clearly, the Mets fared well when Kingman was hitting homers and driving in runs.  But becoming the first home run champion in club history in 1982 (Kingman's 37 homers tied his own franchise mark) and setting the team mark for RBI by a right-handed batter (99) wasn't going to do a thing for the team's success if he had no help around him.  The Mets vowed to get better in 1983, and they did in various respects.  The only problem was that Dave Kingman got worse.

In 1983, George Foster produced a bounceback campaign, leading the team with 28 homers and 90 RBI.  He was followed closely by National League rookie of the year Darryl Strawberry, who produced 26 homers and 74 RBI.   But Kingman got off to an awful start in '83, batting .168 with six homers and 13 RBI in the team's first 37 games.  Even after swatting four homers in four games in late May, Kingman couldn't continue to produce at the level expected of him, as he failed to hit a home run or drive in a run in each of his next 11 games.  By mid-June, general manager Frank Cashen felt a change was needed at first base, and when the Gold Glove-winning, former MVP Keith Hernandez was offered to him by the St. Louis Cardinals, Cashen jumped at the opportunity.

On June 15, 1983, the Mets completed a trade with the Cardinals that netted them the league's top defensive first baseman, as well as a consistent .300 hitter who could hit the ball to all fields and over the wall, if need be.  From 1977 to 1982, Hernandez averaged 37 doubles, six triples and 11 homers per season.  He also batted .303 with a .392 on-base percentage during the six years before his trade to the Mets.  In Kingman's six seasons with the Mets, he averaged 12 doubles, one triple and 26 homers a year, while batting .219 and reaching base at a .287 clip.  As powerful as Kingman was, his .453 slugging percentage in six seasons with the Mets was actually lower than the .456 mark posted by Hernandez in the half-dozen years prior to his trade to New York.  Needless to say, Kingman's days as a Met were all but over, and his production - or lack of it - showed his disappointment at being replaced.

After Hernandez became a Met, Kingman started just six games the rest of the season, appearing mostly as a pinch-hitter over the season's final three months.  Kingman batted just .175 after June 15, with one homer and six RBI - or two homers and two RBI fewer than what he produced in his record-setting three-homer, eight-RBI game against the Dodgers on June 4, 1976.  The Mets chose not to bring back Kingman at the conclusion of the 1983 season, allowing him to sign with the Oakland A's as a free agent.

In Oakland, Kingman experienced a power renaissance, belting 100 homers over the next three seasons.  Kingman also averaged 101 RBI per season as the Athletics' designated hitter and part-time first baseman, including a career-high 118 RBI in his first year with the team in 1984.  But Oakland chose not to re-sign Kingman after the 1986 season, choosing to give his spot on the team to rookie Mark McGwire.  McGwire went on to become the subject of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine's ire in a television commercial, while Kingman had trouble finding a job after finishing second in the 1986 American League home run race.  It was later revealed that collusion by team owners kept free agent signings at a historically low level from 1985 to 1987, causing veteran players like Kingman to remain unsigned.  Kingman eventually signed a minor league contract in 1987 with his original team, the San Francisco Giants, but batted just .203 with two homers in 73 plate appearances before ending his comeback attempt.  After nearly two decades in professional baseball, Kingman decided to call it a career.  And what a unique career it was.

Kingman was a unique personality whose prime focus was on one thing - hitting the ball out of the park.

In 16 big league seasons, six of which were spent with the Mets, Kingman blasted 442 home runs and produced 1,210 RBI.  The only players in those 16 seasons with more home runs than Kingman were Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt (495 HR) and Reggie Jackson (448 HR).  But as great as his home run and RBI numbers were, Kingman struggled to produce lofty numbers in other offensive categories.

Going into the 2014 campaign, there have been 51 players in major league history who have reached the 400-homer mark.  Fifty of those players scored 1,000 or more runs in their careers.  The lone exception is Dave Kingman, who crossed the plate 901 times.  The player with the next fewest runs scored is Mike Piazza, who scored 1,048 times but played most of his career as a catcher, which limited the number of games he played each year.  Kingman also finished his career with 1,575 hits, a number that will become the fewest number of hits collected by a member of the 400-HR club once Adam Dunn picks up his 39th hit in 2014.  Kingman is already low man on the totem pole when it comes to doubles, as his 240 two-base hits have been surpassed by each of the other 50 players in the 400-HR club.  (Mark McGwire is one rung above him with 252.)

As a Met, Kingman became just the second man in big league history to hit 30 or more homers in a season where he failed to collect 10 doubles, joining Gus Zernial, who had 30 homers and nine doubles in 1955.  (Mark McGwire became the third player to join this group in 2000 when he collected 32 homers and eight doubles.)  But Kingman's 37 homers in 1982 are still the most for any player who couldn't reach double digits in two-baggers.

Kingman finished his Mets career with 154 homers, which still ranks fifth in club history 30 years after Kong played his last game with the team.  But he only cracked 70 doubles as a Met.  There have been 143 players in team history who have hit ten or more homers during their time in New York.  Kingman is the only one of those 143 players to finish his career with more than twice as many homers as he had doubles.  Similarly, there have been 215 players who scored 30 or more runs in their Mets careers.  Of those 215 players, the only one who drove himself in more than his teammates did (meaning more than half of his runs scored came on his own homers) was Kingman, whose 154 homers as a Met contributed to more than 50 percent of his 302 runs scored.

With Dave Kingman, you were going to get one of two things.  You were either going to see him hit the ball out of the park (442 HR) or you were going to witness a whiff (1,816 Ks).  But you were definitely going to see something.  After all, no one left his or her seat whenever the slugger stepped up to the plate, especially at Shea Stadium, where Kingman hit more home runs than he did at any other park.

Kingman's monster clouts got him the nickname Kong, and his high fly balls earned him the Sky King monicker.  But other words that stuck to him were "surly", as well as "grouchy" and "malcontent".  Kingman never had a favorable relationship with the media, as evidenced by the bucket of ice water he dumped on a media member's head while with the Cubs in 1980 and the live rat he sent to a female sportswriter during the 1986 season in Oakland.  Each incident occurred during his final season with his respective teams.  He also was never fond of the front office, as he regularly quarreled with his bosses over money, playing time and anything else that came to his mind.

But chicks dig the long ball.  And Kingman did plenty of that.

"I enjoyed the six years on the Mets.  I'm very happy and very content.  I can't imagine making a living any other way than hitting a baseball.  When you take a good cut and pitcher and hitter alike know where it's going, that's the joy of being a power hitter."

--Dave Kingman, as told to the NY Daily News
      (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Dave Kingman may never be considered an all-time great.  He also may never be able to shake his status as a surly slugger.  But as a Met, no one made fans stay in their seats more than Kingman did.  In three of his six seasons with the Mets, Kingman had more than twice the number of home runs hit by any of his teammates.  Kingman finished the 1976 season with 37 homers.  John Milner was second on the team with 15.  Similarly, Kingman's 22 homers in 1981 were almost four times the amount hit by second-place finisher Lee Mazzilli, who hit a mere six homers for the '81 squad.  A year later, Kingman's 37 homers were two dozen more than runner-up George Foster, who was the only other Met besides Kingman to hit more than eight home runs in 1982.

Kingman played his first season in New York on a team that needed to win its final game to finish the year with a winning record.  His second year as a Met, the team finished ten games above .500.  But that was as good as it got for a Kingman-led team in New York.  The Mets never came close to .500 in any of his other four seasons with the team.

Dave Kingman had his share of flaws, both on and off the field, but he was also the best power hitter on some of the most powerless Mets clubs.  Unfortunately for the team, he was perhaps the only reason fans got excited to come to Shea Stadium during his time in New York.  As Kingman once said, that's the joy of being a power hitter.  That's also the sadness of playing for the Mets in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Note:  The Best On The Worst is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting the greatest Mets players who just happened to play on some not-so-great Mets teams.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 6, 2014: Todd Hundley 
January 13, 2014: Al Jackson
January 20, 2014: Lee Mazzilli
January 27, 2014: Steve Trachsel
February 3, 2014: Rico Brogna
February 10, 2014: Skip Lockwood 
February 17, 2014: Ron Hunt
February 24, 2014: Craig Swan 
March 3, 2014: Hubie Brooks 
March 10, 2014: Joel Youngblood 
March 17, 2014: Jim Hickman